Mexico dreaming again
© Foto-net

Two years after Mexico ground to a halt to watch its U-17 side take the world title at Peru 2005, the country is once again dreaming of glory. Fuelling all this optimism is the fact that many of that golden generation who tasted success in Peru are back together at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, where the team have sprinted from the blocks with impressive wins in their opening two games.

"They all have talent, and you can just see chemistry in the group. They're changing the face of Mexican football," says Hector, a 30-year-old fan from Mexico City who has seen all the team's games, even at Peru 2005. "It's like they were at school and went up to the next grade - but they're still great classmates."

Old faces, new challenge
And Hector is right, of course. The nucleus of the team being coached by Jesus Ramirez is remarkably similar to that which lifted the U-17 world title in 2005. In fact, nine of eleven who started this week's Group C fixtures against Gambia and Portugal also played in Peru - a situation unprecedented in the tournament. The only new faces on display were those of goalkeeper Alfonso Blanco and central defender Julio Cesar Dominguez.

Yet despite being in the minority, the newcomers have been every bit as effective as their more experienced team-mates. With his superb shot-stopping, Blanco has been one of the most-lauded players in both the foreign and Mexican press, while two of El Tri's four goalscorers are also new to the team. In this category come Pablo Barrera and Javier Hernandez, both of whom got on the score sheet after coming off the bench.

In the wake of their opening two wins, the country's media has been reflecting the growing optimism surrounding the U-20s. "Men not boys!" trumpeted the homepage of the country's prestigious online news magazine after the win over Portugal (2-1). Then a day later the same website quoted the team's figurehead, Giovanni Dos Santos, as saying: "We've always seen ourselves as favourites for this title."

Following on from their impressive group-stage performances, it comes as no surprise to hear rumours of interest in many of the young Mexicans from some of Europe's top sides. The local media claim gifted winger Cesar Villaluz has caught the eye of English side Arsenal, who are also reportedly interested in team captain Patricio Araujo, as are Dutch giants Ajax.

Fully focused
For all the attention, the players themselves are remaining focused on the job in hand. Asked about the speculation on his future, Villaluz was giving nothing away, saying: "It's fine; it's a source of motivation and all, but you have to do your job out there on the pitch and try to become a champion. If scouts come along to see you, well it's just an added incentive."

Indeed, it is not just foreign visitors who have been impressed with the Cruz Azul winger, but also his own compatriots. "What a brilliant player he is! He has enormous potential," says Jose Guillermo, another fan from the country's capital. "He's as good as Giovanni (Dos Santos) and (Carlos) Vela, and I hope we see him in the senior team soon."

Jose and a great many like-minded fans may not have long to wait. From Venezuela, where the country's senior team are competing at the Copa America, national team coach Hugo Sanchez has been praising the "Golden Generation": "I like the way they've stepped up a level, and I also like the amount of internationals these youngsters are accumulating. There will be opportunities for some of the players who really stand out. That way we can measure their progress."

For now though, the team's goal is to try to reprise the heroics of two years ago, and to re-ignite the passions of a Mexican public who, having had their first taste of success, are now longing to experience it once more.